Matthew 2:1-18

Sunday Morning Bible Study

December 21, 2003

The Perfect Gift

It’s not always an easy thing to know what to get someone for Christmas.  What’s the perfect gift?  For some of us we like the idea of just giving someone money and asking them to buy their own present…

Buy Your Own Present

After her 90th Birthday, Marie found that shopping for Christmas gifts had become too difficult, so she decided to send checks to everyone instead. On each card she wrote, “Buy your own present,” and she mailed them early. Marie enjoyed the usual flurry of family festivities. Only after Christmas did she get around to clearing off her cluttered desk. Under a stack of papers, she was horrified to find the gift checks which she had forgotten to enclose (you know…buy your own present … just what is the perfect gift?)

Matthew 2:1-10 Wise men arrive

:1 in the days of Herod the king

HerodHerodes – “heroic”.  The name of a royal family that flourished among the Jews around the time of Christ. The Herods were Idumean or “Edomites”, who married into the Jewish race. They were not pure Jews.

There are four different members of this family mentioned in the Bible, but this was the patriarch, known as “Herod the Great”. He was born around 74 BC. He was appointed “king” of Judaea in 39 BC by the Roman Senate at the request of Mark Antony (Richard Burton’s part in Cleopatra), but didn’t overcome opposition in Judaea fully until 37 BC. He was considered skilled in war, wise, but also very suspicious and cruel. He married a Jewish wife, but because of his suspicions he eventually had her and her two sons killed.

Emperor Augustus reportedly said it was better to be Herod’s sow than his son, for his sow had a better chance of surviving in a Jewish community.

His bloody reign, high taxes, and love of Roman customs alienated him from the Jews, but he tried to make them happy with great building programs at Jericho, and Caesarea, including the remodeling of the Temple (known as “Herod’s Temple). He died at age 70 in the year 4 BC, which means that the birth of Christ had to have occurred no later than 4 BC.

:1 behold, there came wise men from the east

wise menmagos – a magus; the name given by the Babylonians (Chaldeans), Medes, Persians, and others, to the wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, astrologers, seers, interpreters of dreams, sorcerers etc.; Our word “magic” comes from this word.

These are Gentile men, not Jews.

The tradition that there were three comes from the three types of gifts they brought. The Scriptures don’t tell us how many there were. There were at least two and perhaps as many as a dozen. The tradition that their names were Balthasar, Melchior, and Caspar first appeared in a mosaic in a 6th-century church in Ravenna, Italy. The tradition also holds that they represented the three groups of people descended from Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

:1 to Jerusalem,

The wise men come to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, to ask about the birth of their king. The implication seems to be that they are going around the city asking people for help in finding the newborn king.

:2 for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

What was this star thing?

Some have suggested it might have been something like a supernova. It’s possible that this might have been the original sighting of the star, but it doesn’t fit the rest of the story when it starts moving.


It seems the wise men actually saw the star a couple of years earlier, but apparently there was some sort of disconnect because they don’t know where to go once they get to Jerusalem.
This requires that they stop and ask for directions (how un-manly of them!). Some have suggested that this proves they weren’t wise men at all, but wise women. J
Since the star will eventually start leading them again, it seems logical that God must have wanted them to stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions. Perhaps God wanted to give the leaders of the nation a clue as to what was happening.

:3 Herod …was troubled

Herod was one of the most paranoid men whose ever lived.

:6 And thou Bethlehem

The prophecy is in the book of Micah (Micah 5:2)

:7 inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.

It seems that this is the first time that Herod talks with the wise men. He now has the answer they’ve been looking for and in what seems a harmless exchange of information; he wants to get a clue as to how old this child might be. He finds out that the child could be as old as two years old (vs. 16).

:9 the star, which they saw in the east, went before them

The wise men go to Bethlehem, but why doesn’t anyone else go as well? If Messiah has been born, why aren’t the chief priests and the scribes going?

Bethlehem is only five miles away from Jerusalem.

More on the star –

If this was something like a supernova, how could it be moving like this and pointing out a specific spot?

One suggestion was that these wise men saw the Shekinah glory of God. The Israelites were led for forty years through the wilderness by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Could it have been something like this?

:11-12 Worshipping the king

:11 when they were come into the house, they saw the young child

On the night that Jesus was born, there were no other kings present.  There were shepherds, there was a manger, but the wise men weren’t there.

When the wise men showed up, they didn’t go to a manger. It’s possibly two years later, and Joseph and Mary were living in a house by this time.

the young childpaidion – a young child. Matthew does not use the word used in Luke for “babe” (brephos) (Luke 2:12). The child is older than in Luke’s account.

Epiphany (Greek epiphaneia, “appearance”), a holiday celebrated on January 6 by the Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches to commemorate the revelation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles seen through the coming of the Wise Men.

Epiphany, known to have been observed earlier than ad 194, is older than Christmas and has always been a festival of the highest rank. The eve of Epiphany is called Twelfth Night, and the day itself is sometimes referred to as Twelfth Day. In England, the sovereign commemorates the day by offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh at the altar in the Chapel Royal, at Saint James's Palace.

Remember that silly song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? The Twelve days are the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. The song itself was written by Catholics in England as a way of secretly teaching Catholic doctrine to their children because for a period of time in England it was against the law to be Catholic.

:11 they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

gold – we understand the yellow stuff.

frankincense – made from the yellowish resin of the Boswellia sacra tree found in Arabia. The resin was dried and used in incense and the holy anointing oil. Incense in the Bible is used in relation to prayer.  In Bible times it was actually more valuable than gold.

myrrh – made from the reddish gum of a plant called commiphora, also found in Arabia. It was found in the holy anointing oil, in perfume, and in embalming.

What’s the significance of the gifts?

There are prophetic hints that Gentile leaders would one day give gifts to the Messiah:

Isa 60:6 The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.

It has been suggested that the gold was given to Him as a king, the frankincense because of His role as a priest, and the myrrh was a hint of His coming death.

The early church Fathers understood the gold to be symbolic of Christ’s deity, the frankincense of His purity, and the myrrh of His death.


Giving gifts

The tradition of gift giving at Christmas probably comes from this example, set by the wise men.
(I don’t know if this is a true story or not, but it certainly is a great parable about giving … author is unknown)
For as far back as I can remember, I always treated Old Man Jones, my neighbor, in the worst ways. Each April 1st, I had the “burning paper bag with dog poop in it “ tradition, and even though Old Man Jones never fell for it, he still had a gross pile to remove from his front stairs! He always knew that it was me, and always said, without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry”. His driveway was next to ours and in the winter, I always shoveled our snow onto his drive, giving him twice the work. He never did get a snow blower, but when I was 12, just before a blizzard, one appeared in my driveway, with a note saying, “You might need this!” I could now delight in blowing all the snow from my driveway, and most of my front yard, onto Old man Jones’s car. I would even cut a wider than needed path for my mom’s car just to put more snow on the dinosaur’s driveway. (That’s what my mom always called him: “the Dinosaur.”) He always knew that it was me and always said without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry”. I keyed his car more than once. When I discovered the mint 1969 Mustang Mach series car that always stayed under a thick canvas cover, kept for someone, I quickly sought to learn how many pumps of my BB rifle it took send the metal orb through it’s windows. It took all ten allowed pumps. He knew that it was me and said without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry”. Between my vandal’s rifle and slingshot, most of his home’s windows had to be replaced at one time or another, not to mention the battered aluminum siding that still bears the myriad of little dents. He never complained about the shattered bird feeder or the constant supply of dead squirrels, sparrows, cardinals and whatever else winged its way into his yard. I do remember the tenderness that he buried the vermin with, though. I can’t recall how many times he had to take his cat to the vet to remove a pellet from an infected wound, but I do remember that he always knew that it was me, and always said, without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry”. At Christmas-time he used to set up lots of lights around his house that looked like virtual BB magnets, which they were. A plastic manger scene was the prime target one year, and stayed on the relic’s front lawn until I shot the baby’s face off. He knew that it was me and said without anger in his voice, “Someday, you’ll be sorry.” There was this room in his house that I would look into sometimes when the old man was away. It was the kind of room that I would have loved to have, if my mom could ever get a real job. It was just like one of those “Good Housekeeping” kid’s bedroom that everybody is supposed to want. I always figured that Jones was on the loony side, and this “keeping a cool room for a kid he didn’t have” thing was the final proof that I needed of his senility. I never shot that window out. My mom and I never had much in the money department, but every year, on Christmas, a couple hundred dollars worth of cool stuff was left on my doorstep with “Merry Christmas” and my name written on each carefully wrapped gift. (That’s where the BB gun came from, along with a great target setup, which was never needed with the shooting range next door.) My mom, too hung over each Christmas morning to get me up early enough to meet the Gift Bearer, said that the stuff probably came from my grandfather, whom she hadn’t cared to talk to or see since long before I came around. There had been some long remembered fight over his “interference” in her affairs, of which there were many. I had never seen him and really didn’t even know or care where he lived, so long as the goodies came. One Christmas, I got up early on my own because I thought that I might want to see what my ancestor looked like, not to mention that I was hoping for BB’s from my benefactor, ‘cause Old Man Jones had just gotten a new bird feeder with “unbreakable” glass in it, and my Daisy was calling my name before the sun was up. I was still rubbing sleep from my eyes, when I heard a soft shuffling on the porch. As I quietly opened the front door, the rising sun reflected off of an armload of carefully wrapped presents, in silver and gold paper, each with “Merry Christmas” and my name written on it. The arms were still holding the gifts, but the face was hidden by a tall package. The obscured gift bearer was unaware that I had opened the door, until he carefully put the gifts down. Startled, Old Man Jones stood up stiffly and with moistened eyes and broken voice said, “Merry Christmas.” “Someday” had come, and Old Man Jones could have never been more right.
We can be changed by the gifts given to us.
The story we’re studying in Matthew actually tells of two sets of gifts.  Did you notice that?

Yes, the wise men are giving gifts.

But another gift had already been given.  God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son.  There aren’t three kings in the Christmas story with gifts, there’s only one.

The wise men were changed when they found out about this king.  They left the comfort of their world to find this king.  They gave of their wealth to honor this king.

Yet the example had already been laid out.  The other king in the story had also left the comforts of His world.  He was on the way to giving the world His great gift, He would lay down His life for us.

We are changed when we find out about God’s gift to us.  I don’t think we can really understand giving unless we understand God’s gift.

God’s gift isn’t based on our “wish list”.  It’s based on our real need.

God loved us so much that He took care of our deepest need. He paid the debt we owed to Him, not the debt caused by charging too much on our credit cards, but the debt that is caused when we sin and do things outside of God’s will for us. He loved us so much that He sent His Son to pay our debt by dying on a cross in our place. And He offers us complete forgiveness.

He offers that forgiveness now to us as a free gift.  But like any gift, it’s of no value to you unless you receive it.  If there’s a gift with my name under the Christmas tree Wednesday morning, and I don’t unwrap it, what good is that gift?

It’s hard to really grasp what it means to give to others until you’ve been touched by what God has given to you.

Have you been touched by God’s love for you?
There are some gifts you could give to God this Christmas.
Gold – You can give to Him from your resources. This will involve things like our finances and our time.

(1 Tim 6:17-18 NLT) Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. {18} Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them.

You may not put yourself in the category of being “rich”, but I’m afraid that’s just a quick excuse not to be challenged with how we use our finances. Compared to the rest of the world, most people in this room would be considered “rich”. Do you realize that in India, a typical native missionary exists on $120 per month? Don’t try and mess with standards of living, and say you can’t compare us with them. We are wealthy.

Some of us need to be challenged with how we use our time. They say time is money. Some say time is more valuable than money. How much time do you spend on Kingdom work? I’m not just talking about volunteering for Sunday School, though that may be something you could do.  What are you doing in your life to consciously, purposefully, serve God?

Frankincense – You can give Him your worship. You can draw close to Him. You can pray. David wrote,

(Psa 141:2 KJV) Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Keep in mind that people in Bible times valued this more than gold.

Myrrh – When we think of the wise men giving myrrh, we think about it reminding us of this Child who would one day die for the sins of the world. I think we could also think about how we follow Jesus in laying down our lives as well.

(Mat 16:24 KJV) Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

I wonder if some of us are a little too sensitive when it comes to giving of our gold and frankincense because we haven’t learned yet to lay down our lives for Him.

:13-18 Threats and death

:16-18 slew all the children that were in Bethlehem

It has been suggested that what we know of the demographics of Bethlehem at this time, that Herod may have ordered the deaths of somewhere around twenty to forty little boys.


Respond to the gift

How will you respond to the gift of God’s Son?
1. Will you be like Herod and feel threatened?

Sometimes a husband or a wife comes to know Jesus, and the other spouse begins to feel threatened.  Some become resentful that the spouse begins to love Jesus more than them.  Get over it.

2. Will you be like the religious people and just ignore it all?

Perhaps you feel comfortable that you know all you need to know about God stuff.  But do you know God?  Is it worth a trip to Bethlehem?

3. Will you be like the wise men and bow before Him?

It was the day after Christmas. The pastor of a church was looking over their Nativity scene when he noticed the baby Jesus was missing from among the figures. Immediately he turned and went outside and saw a little boy with a red wagon, and in the wagon was the figure of the little infant, Jesus. So he walked up to the boy and said, “Well, where did you get Him, my fine friend?” The little boy replied, “I got him from the church.” “And why did you take him?” The boy said, “Well, about a week before Christmas, I prayed to the little Lord Jesus and I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.”

I absolutely love this child’s heart, but God has done a bit more for us than give us a little red wagon.  He gave us His Son.  He’s hoping you’ll take Him a little farther than just a trip around the block. 
How will you respond?  Gold, frankincense, and myrrh?